How does The Glass Castle portray Welch, West Virginia? Did Jeannette and her family call the small town home?
In The Glass Castle, Welch, West Virginia is the hometown of family patriarch Rex, and the town where the family settles for most of Jeannette’s high school years.
Read more about The Glass Castle, Welch, and how Jeannette left the town for a better life.
The Glass Castle: Welch, West Virginia
It took the Walls family a month to make it across the country when Jeannette was around eleven years old. The used car Rose Mary bought broke down frequently and wouldn’t go faster than twenty miles per hour. Finally, they rolled into the Appalachian Mountains. For Jeannette Walls, Welch, West Virginia was going to be her nwe home.
The landscape was vastly different than anything Jeannette had ever seen. Instead of deserts and dry hills, they drove through rolling hills of thick forests. They pulled up to Rex’s childhood home and were greeted by their other grandma for the first time. In The Glass Castle, Welch was where the family had chosen to settle.
There’s No Place Like Home: The Glass Castle and Welch
In The Glass Castle, Welch was the home of Rex’s parents, including Grandma Erma. Grandma Erma was an obese woman who smoked and drank almost as much as Rex. She greeted her son warmly, but she was rude to Rose Mary and short with the children. She told them to call her Erma, not grandma. In contrast, Grandpa Ted was old and wiry. He didn’t mind being called grandpa. Another man stepped forward and introduced himself as Uncle Stanley. He was missing teeth and was overly affectionate with Jeannette.
That night, everyone gathered around the coal stove for warmth and ate green beans and biscuits for dinner. The beans were mushy and so salty, Jeannette held her nose as she ate, as Rose Mary had taught her to do when eating food that was slightly spoiled. Erma smacked her hand away and told her beggars couldn’t be choosers.
The family wasn’t planning on staying with Rex’s parents for long. But until they could afford their own place, they all slept in the basement—Rex and Rose Mary on a pullout sofa and the children sharing Stanley’s bed. The children giggled at being crammed in so tightly together, eliciting a stern warning from Erma that laughing got on her nerves.
The next day, Rex took Rose Mary and the kids on a tour of Welch. Welch was a coal-mining town that sat in a valley between two mountain ranges. A river ran through town, but it was polluted from the town’s toilet waste because there was no sewer system. There was one main road, and everything seemed to be covered in coal dust.
As they drove through town, Jeannette tried to make friendly gestures to people she saw on the street, but none of them smiled back. Rose Mary seemed giddy. She reckoned there were no other artists in Welch. Her career could really take off there.
Evils of the Past
On a cold winter’s morning, Rex and Rose Mary drove away from Erma’s house and headed back to Phoenix. They wanted to pick up the rest of their stuff and get the children’s school records. Jeannette could tell both her parents were excited to be leaving. For Jeannette Walls, Welch, West Virginia couldn’t be home if her parents weren’t there.
Jeannette wondered if her parents would come back. Now that the children were older, she feared they’d become too big a burden. A week past and her parents were still gone. Erma was more critical and mean without Rex around and hit the kids with a wooden spoon. One day, she called Brian into her room to mend his pants. She’d been drinking all morning from a bottle she kept in her housecoat. After a minute, Jeannette heard Brian squirming and whining. She ran to the room and saw Brian crying and Erma on her knees molesting his privates.
Jeannette screamed for her to stop, and Lori came running in. Erma scolded Jeannette and reached back to slap her, but Lori stopped her arm and tried to calm things down. After Erma slapped Lori, the two got into a fist fight, and Lori punched Erma in the face.
After that, the children weren’t allowed to come out of the basement. They weren’t allowed to use the bathroom upstairs, so they had to go at school or outside. When a snowstorm hit, Erma wouldn’t give them coal for the basement stove. Whenever they weren’t at school, all four kids piled under the covers in their clothes and coats to stay warm.
When Rex and Rose Mary returned, Erma told them what had happened. Rex stomped down the stairs and went into a tirade about disrespecting their grandmother. He said Brian should stop being such a sissy. The children wondered if Erma had ever done something like that to Rex. None of them wanted to think about it, but they all agreed it would explain a lot.
A Fresh Start: Leaving Welch
Jeannette thought things would get better with her parents back, but Erma wouldn’t forgive the kids. She kicked all of them out. With no jobs, no money, and no car (it had broken down on the drive back from Phoenix), Rex set out to find something cheap in town. What they ended up finding was a ramshackle wooden house on the side of a steep hill. The front of the house sat on cinder blocks, and there was no indoor plumbing. For Jeannette Walls, Welch, West Virginia was only holding her back.
There was an old black coal stove in one of the three rooms that vented through a window instead of a chimney. The ventilation was poor, and part of the ceiling was stained from the thick smoke. The kitchen had exposed and shoddy wiring around the appliances, and when they were able to pay the electric bill, at least one of them was shocked if they touched some wet or metallic. They wore rags or socks over their hands to avoid it. There was also a leak in the ceiling that grew so much during a rainstorm, part of the ceiling came down. No one fixed it.
Jeannette longed for their house in Phoenix, as well as the dry, sunny weather. She asked Rex if they were ever going home, to which he responded they were home. Rex loved the house, not for the current dwelling, but because of the included land, on which he planned to build The Glass Castle in Welch.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Glass Castle summary:
- The author's unbelievable childhood as her absent parents went on alcoholic binges
- How Jeannette and her siblings escaped their parents to strike out on their own
- The complicated relationship Jeannette had with her parents before they died